This mystery all began on July 25, 2018, when Las Vegas KLAS-TV reporters George Knapp and Matt Adams published an article that included a 2009 letter from Senator Harry Reid. “I-Team obtains some key documents related to Pentagon UFO study,” the headline ran, and embedded within was a four page leaked letter that has intrigued UFO enthusiasts ever since.
Now, more than two years after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was filed by The Black Vault, the mystery about the letter has deepened significantly. The Department of Defense (DOD), having first denied that they could even find a copy of the letter on March 11, 2021, was forced to do a second search once a previous Pentagon spokesperson statement was cited. That statement, given to The Black Vault in 2019, authenticated the letter and made it clear the DOD responded to Reid. Once that official statement was brought to the FOIA office’s attention, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) found the letter written by Reid on the second search, and is processing it for a future release at an unknown date.
However, despite having confirmed that a response was sent back to Reid by the DOD; the FOIA office has confirmed to The Black Vault they simply can’t find it, and they will be issuing a “no records” response to that portion of the request once the case is completed.
Over the course of the last two years, it was also discovered that within numerous places where the letter written by Reid should exist, it does not, indicating that even as far back as 2009 the DOD possibly aimed to cover-up the existence of not only this Unclassified AATIP letter, but quite possibly, cover-up the existence of the entire Unclassified AATIP program all together.
The letter that leaked was written by Reid on June 24, 2009, and sent to William Lynn, then Deputy Secretary of Defense (DEPSECDEF). In this letter, Reid described a program he called the Advanced Aerospace Threat and Identification Program, or AATIP. Although he incorrectly referred to it as “AAITP,” Reid was seeking what he called “Restricted Special-Access-Program (SAP)” status for AATIP, and he attached a recommended “Bigot List” (which he labeled incorrectly as a “Bigoted List”) of approved individuals he asked to have access to it. Although the leaked letter had redactions, they were put by Knapp per the request of his anonymous source.
The list of those who were to have access totaled only fourteen people, but the original leaked letter only included three that were unredacted. That included Lynn, Reid, and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. Inouye was reported to have co-sponsored the AATIP’s funding in its infant stages, which got it off the ground back in 2008.
The remaining eight names under the “Government Personnel” heading, and an additional three names under the “Contractor Personnel,” were all redacted by Knapp in the original posting of the letter. (Note: Knapp later released another version of the letter on June 4, 2019, which unredacted the names of Special Agent Luis Elizondo from OUSDI and Dr. Hal Puthoff, lead scientist for BAASS.)
The Anonymous Roots
Neither Knapp nor Adams have revealed where they got the letter since they first published it. However, The Black Vault was first to receive official verification that the leaked letter was legitimate in 2019 from the DOD. “I can confirm that the memo you’re referring to is authentic…” Pentagon spokesperson Susan Gough told The Black Vault in an e-mail. “DOD received it and responded to Sen. Reid. I cannot provide you with the response; we do not release correspondence between DOD and members of Congress.”
But what is not known to the general public about this statement, is that the admission by the Pentagon was largely unexpected. The Black Vault had already compiled ample evidence that Reid’s AATIP letter was nowhere to be found in official records, with documented proof of that dating back to 2009. In fact, there was enough evidence that if it were not for Gough’s comment confirming it was real, it may have even indicated to some the letter was possibly a forgery or never sent to the DEPSECDEF.
Though a forgery it is not. Through the Pentagon’s official statement, it is authenticated and it was sent to the DEPSECDEF and responded to. The Black Vault’s FOIA case 19-F-0948, which resulted in the letter ultimately being found after a second search (but is still being processed), will yield a “no records” response to the portion of it asking for the response sent to Reid. The Black Vault reached out to Gough to clarify her 2019 statement, and the fact that she was able to confirm there was a response. However, after numerous attempts to get comment, the Pentagon has not responded to this specific inquiry.
Now the question becomes was the letter, along with the existence of AATIP, covered up beginning more than eight years prior to the NY Times ever breaking the story?
Congressional Correspondence Logs Are Devoid Of Reid’s Letter
Each federal agency maintains a “Congressional Correspondence Log” of letters sent in to any particular agency. The Black Vault has an entire archive of these, as it offers a window into the communication between elected officials and various agencies.
With most agencies, the process is straight forward. Once a letter is received, it is given a “control number,” and entered into a database of correspondence. Then, the clock starts counting down to the time limit the agency has to respond to that particular communication. Mandated response times are defined by who sent the letter. For example, OSD mandates are stipulated by DOD Manual 5110.04, Volume 1, Manual for Written Material: Correspondence Management, and there are extensive details on how OSD responds to correspondence, whether it be from the President, Vice President, White House Chief of Staff, Cabinet Heads, U.S. Governors, Senior White House Staff, Members of Congress, Ministers of Defense, Congressional Constituent Inquires, and a host of other category-specific action types.
However, the OSD log for 2009 which should contain Reid’s AATIP letter, completely omits it. The log, released to The Black Vault in FOIA Case 18-F-1268, is supposed to list every letter that was sent in during the calendar year 2009. Yet Reid’s AATIP letter is missing from the list. The log exhibits clearly that letters to both the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and the DEPSECDEF are listed in the same fashion, therefore there is no valid reason it should not appear.
The log also reveals that Reid sent two other letters the same day as the one pertaining to AATIP, both of which were logged properly.
The Black Vault has filed FOIA requests for both letters, including the response (if any) that was sent to Reid.
The first of the two received, which was done so via OSD FOIA Case 19-F-0675, was regarding a DoD project in the state of Nevada.
Despite not being about AATIP (nor was it expected to be), the release is very useful when unraveling this entire mystery and investigating Reid’s AATIP letter.
For starters, the FOIA release highlights what each piece of correspondence looks like after it is received by OSD. Each letter gets a corresponding bar code which matches the “control number” from the log above. It is placed on the bottom right corner of both the original letter received, along with the one that was sent as a response.
The original “leaked” version of Reid’s AATIP letter lacks a control number and bar code. Why? It is likely that the anonymous source had direct access to the original file (or a copy of the original) that was either printed or e-mailed to the DEPSECDEF.
The short list of possible identities of that anonymous source would include Reid himself; one who has been interviewed by KLAS-TV numerous times on this topic. It would be highly likely that he would still have a copy of the original letter, which on his side, would not have an OSD “control number” bar code.
The Black Vault reached out to the University Libraries Special Collections Department at the University of Nevada, Reno, which holds the Harry Reid Papers Collection. In 2019, it was stated to The Black Vault that Reid’s papers were “closed for research until May 2026.” In 2021, The Black Vault attempted again to access information related to this unclassified correspondence, but no phone calls were returned.
The letter itself has no “cc” (carbon copy) list that some Congressional correspondence letters have. This would show all the names of who first obtained the letter when it was sent, thus showing potential candidates on who would have a copy of a non-barcoded version, and potentially the response. This would indicate that either no one was on the CC list, or Reid’s secretary with the initials “RTH” forgot to put one. Therefore, as of the writing of this article, the source of the letter remains fully anonymous.
The second log entry was also requested via OSD FOIA Case 19-F-0677. That was subsequently sent to the U.S. Air Force for review and release, thus indicating zero AATIP connection. That FOIA case remains open, and will be posted when available, but it was confirmed with the Pentagon that it is not the AATIP letter in question.
2009 FOIA Searches Ignored Reid’s AATIP Letter
The above FOIA request revealing that Reid’s AATIP letter was missing from the Congressional Correspondence log was made in 2018. Yet, nearly a decade prior to that, another FOIA request made by Laura Strickler from CBS News would make this entire saga even more strange. This FOIA case is important because this was eight years prior to the AATIP story ever becoming public, and nine years prior to Reid’s AATIP letter ever leaking.
Filed in July of 2009, Strickler asked for, “Copies of all congressional correspondence between [the]Department of Defense and any member of Congress or any staffer from Congress from February 1, 2009 – July 17, 2009,” according to OSD’s FOIA Case Log. Her timeframe would include the date of Reid’s June 24, 2009, AATIP letter, therefore it should be included in the response.
Strickler received 1,958 pages of correspondence responsive to her request, all within her timeframe requested, and it all stretched over three releases of records to her. Each letter that was released was complete with a control number and bar code (letters to the White House had hand-written control numbers with no bar codes); and on page 908 of her first release, was Reid’s non-AATIP related letter that is displayed above. However, yet again, Reid’s AATIP letter was nowhere to be found. (The “test” letter referenced above would not have been included, nor was it. As indicated by The Black Vault’s FOIA, the U.S. Air Force is tasked with the review of it, thus proving why OSD would likely not have released it or archived it on their reading room. That letter would have been forwarded to USAF for release.)
With this extra piece of evidence, it can now be proven that over the span of a decade, despite not having an apparent classification, this letter and possibly the response to it was being shielded from the public’s eye and potentially a piece of evidence lost in a government cover-up.
But a cover-up of what?
What If Reid’s Letter Was Classified?
Reid’s AATIP letter is presumably considered UNCLASSIFIED since there are no security markings on it.
Though despite that, some may question if OSD did consider the letter classified, would it appear in the log or be released to FOIA requesters? The answer to that, is yes (pending a review of the record). A classification would still make it subject to the FOIA along with appearing in the logs.
Evidence for that lies in OSD’s FOIA Case 09-F-1460. In this example filed in 2009, similar to The Black Vault’s referenced above, the requester asked for a “Congressional Correspondence Log” which included the June 2009 timeframe, the same month Reid’s AATIP letter was written. The formatting back then differed from today’s, but included a “Classification” column (U = Unclassified. S = Secret. T = Top Secret. etc.).
The log released in 2009 proves that not only do members of Congress submit classified letters; the logging of them remains the same as those that are unclassified.
What Does It Mean?
So what does all this prove? Why does this evidence even matter? The answer to those questions may be it is yet another provable government cover-up with documented evidence; a concerted effort to shield, for whatever reason, an Unclassified letter from Senator Harry Reid about an Unclassified project known as AATIP. It may show, with evidence dating back thirteen years, that the existence of AATIP, and what it was really doing, was supposed to remain a true mystery to the public. It may also reveal that the powers that be who make the decisions about what, and what not, to release to the public played their hand at ensuring AATIP would remain in the shadows. And lastly, it may show that the reality of the AATIP program was never intended to be public at all, and that effort to obfuscate its reality began even as far back as 2009.
Or, this is all simply a coincidence of errors and accidental omissions. Maybe the pile of evidence which includes proof of the absence of the AATIP letter in Congressional correspondence logs; the lack of proper protocol being followed for Congressional inquiries; the FOIA request which should have turned up an Unclassified document but did not; all could be just human errors and coincidences all piled up on top of each other. So aside from the fact that the AATIP saga is ripe with unanswered questions and flip-flopping Pentagon statements, maybe it is just nothing more than that.